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March 10, 2009


Non-laboratory research careers in biotech encompass a large range of functions, including engineering, careers in medical and clinical settings, administrative/support functions and sales and marketing. Here we take a look at the engineering positions.

Engineering careers

Engineering careers have a strong practical application. Where discovery research scientists identify potential drug candidates, engineers are more concerned with figuring out first, how to ensure that enough material is available for clinical testing, and second, how to manufacture an approved drug. Engineering careers require a great capacity for precision, order, defined processes and a need to see tangible results after a day's work. If you like your work to be exact and practical, engineering-related careers may be just the thing.

Four career paths exist in engineering: process/product development, manufacturing, environmental health and safety and quality. The first three functions are usually grouped together under the operations department. Although engineering-related, the quality department is usually found as a separate function in the organization, regardless of its size, probably because its mandate requires independent judgment.

Environmental health and safety

Fully developed companies also maintain an environmental health and safety group to assess the impact of a product on the environment and ensure that any toxic by-products of research or manufacturing are properly disposed. Environmental engineers test and monitor air and water quality, investigate the health effects of potential toxins, dispose of regular as well as hazardous wastes, develop procedures to control pollution and give input on how to manage the land around a facility. This task becomes especially important in industrial applications of biotechnology, where chemical spills can have devastating effects on the environment if they are not contained quickly. Keeping up and complying with environmental regulations also falls under this group. Environmental engineers prepare permit applications, perform regulatory reviews, inspect the operations at the company's facilities and participate in environmental audits.


Careers in the quality function focus on developing and implementing standards, methods and procedures to inspect, test and evaluate the precision, accuracy, efficacy and reliability of a company's products. These support tasks ensure that the company's submissions to the FDA as well as the products bought by consumers adhere to industry standards. In a tightly regulated industry with a significant potential for liability if a product is defective, careers in the Quality function help ensure the safety of the consuming public.


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